This afternoon it is not up to Fútbol Club Barcelona, leader of the Spanish League in the midst of a scandal over the alleged purchase of referees, the task of making the Camp Nou vibrate. Those in charge of arousing emotions will be four teams among which there are few professional players, but the figures shine, not from sports, but from social networks. And they will do it, against the forecast of the most conservative, with a full house.
El Barrio, Saiyans, Aniquiladores and Los Troncos, groups led by influencers with global reach, will star in the Final Four that will define the champion of the first tournament of the King’s League, a sui generis 7-a-side soccer league that, with the spirit of the ball, the entertainment of video games and the echo of social networks, has achieved better audience figures than most matches in the Spanish Primera División in the last three monthsaccording to the newspaper El País.
In the words of Javier Tebas, president of the Spanish League for a decade, the King’s League “is a circus”. But although its logic is different from that of traditional sport, since it is a mixture of football with rules adapted from other disciplines, e-sports tricks and a good dose of entertainment, the best weapon of the striking contest is the good for which more is fought in the digital age: the popularity. Perhaps for this reason, as their promoters say, “they are afraid of them.”
This Sunday, the Catalan grass will not be so that, as ever, Sándor Kocsis thinks and executes with his head, Johan Cruyff becomes a golden tulip or Lionel Messi becomes gigantic. The kings will be the men who, in the midst of the debates to change the rules of soccer, the complaints against the charges for the platforms that broadcast the matches, and the criticism of the sheikhs who take possession of the ball, understand what others seem to have forgotten: that for the audience to have a good time is a means and at the same time an end. Not surprisingly, this afternoon, as a spokesman for the King’s League points out to this newspaper, will be “a party, a party lady”. And as Neymar already said: “Who doesn’t like to party?”.
(It may be of interest to you: Clara Chía’s unexpected reaction when Piqué is asked for a photo on the street).
“The way of living the sport has changed and that is why we have to revolutionize the tradition. Young people can’t stand a full match and pay more attention to the networks, alternative channels or multi-screens”Gerard Piqué, now a former Barcelona player, was heard saying last year through the corridors of Kosmos, the company he co-founded in 2017 with the aim of mixing sport, media and entertainment.
By then, his words were backed by the contract that he had signed in 2018 with the International Tennis Federation (ITF, for its acronym in English) to reform the Davis Cup – the tennis World Cup – after 119 years of the same model. However, in January of this 2023, the project collapsed amid the rejection of the fans, the unfeasibility of the system and accusations of non-payment. The news, nothing minor, did not sink in the background in Piqué’s environment for a single reason, the parallel materialization of a project announced by Kosmos since November, the King’s League.
With ten ‘influencers’ and two ex-footballers (Iker Casillas and Sergio ‘Kun’ Agüero) in the presidency of the twelve League teams, 120 players from a selection of 13,000 people with experience as professionals or amateur league entertainers, a regulation based on football but with rules of water polo and e-sports charms, and millions of audiences behind its icons, the King’s League got rolling on the first of January. And since then it hasn’t stopped.
(Also: Egan Bernal: they publish the first medical part after his fall in the Tour of Catalonia).
A ‘show’ of this era
For eleven weeks, the championship matches were held at the Cupra Arena, an old pavilion in the port of Barcelona that, due to its location and facilities, fans of the tournament could not go to. The option, according to the essence of the project, was to follow it through the streaming accounts of the league and its promoters on different platforms. In this way, he reached an audience peak of 2,120,962 people simultaneously, when Ronaldinho went to play a couple of minutes with the Porcinos team, of the Spanish streamer Ibai Llanos, under the figure of ‘player 12’, an occasional member. In addition, it obtained an average that exceeds 400 thousand spectators in the general balance of the competition, according to figures from the organizers. The last League of Spain, of annual duration, had an average of 301,000 spectators.
In the times of the ‘smartphone empire and like capitalism’, as the philosopher Byung-Chul Han would say, the King’s League offers open doors for everything. During the week, talks are organized with discussions, laughter and controversies between the presidents of the teams, with other celebrities and even with the referees. At the weekend, amidst players launching to kick a ball at kick-off or rally to use a ‘secret card’, the cameras strip away any possibility of myth and broadcast every minute detail of what is happening. Such is the success that next year they hope to hold several leagues in other countries and a kind of World Cup.
About the income that the players receive, Gabriel Cichero, a footballer with a past in the Venezuelan National Team and present in the unprecedented league, claims that it is close to 400,000 Colombian pesos per game. For now, the organizers’ response seems to be the current currency: the exhibition.
If in the 1970s it was Pelé who taught children in Africa to popularize soccer –in the midst of the proselytizing interests of João Havelange, then a candidate for the Fifa presidency–, in 2023 it is Ronaldinho who arrives –for invitation of social media figures – to riot the epicenter of the media spectacle around a ball.
“It is the time that puts the images, one is limited to putting the words”would conclude the late writer Stefan Zweig.
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